The café culture in Paris is a way of life. And this culture, if anything, sets apart the French from the rest of the world. A Parisian is going to stop into a café with someone or alone. They are going to sit down, light up a cigarette and order an espresso, beer or glass of wine. The will in no way be inclined to do anything other than take in the moment and watch people as they walk by. Not one of them will pull out a laptop or proceed to be ‘productive’. A French waiter will never bring you the check until you ask for it. Usually at least twice. You’re practically expected to wile away hours sipping and talking. This is why the Parisian café exists.
As an American I find it difficult to partake in this aspect of their culture. Not because I don’t enjoy espresso and people watching, because trust me, I do! It’s because I not only don’t speak the French language more than ‘un petit peu’, but I also don’t smoke. Add to the fact that I am highly allergic to cigarette smoke and there is no way to find a café where you are not bombarded with it the moment you sit down. This seemingly lovely cultural pass time is wherein lies the widest chasm for me. Even though my ancestry is from Northern France in the Normandy Coast that goes back over 500 years…Je suis Américaine, Je ne suis pas Française.
Relationships between people in France seem very intimate. The double kiss upon greeting, as well as depature. The closeness of couples in public. The sense of comfortability in who they are and how they interact with one another is apparent. Within cities, there are large amounts of individuals who keep to themselves, but those who partake in engaging with others have a welcoming atmosphere to connect.
Café Bonaparte in the 16éme arrondissement at 42 Rue Bonaparte is my personal favorite café in Paris. Wonderful service, food and drink. As well as a perfect corner for people watching.
As an American I do hope to find a way to let the inspiration of French café culture make a difference in how I approach my day to day life. My favorite way to breathe and take a moment is to go for a walk. A walk around my neighborhood, a walk around the lake, a stroll through the city, venturing out when I travel and walking all over the place. That is my favorite way to experience life, though I have to say for the most part it is very solitary. Making a shift in how I spend my free time is something I feel as though I need to do to start letting people back into my life.
The Paris café of yesteryear still graces the essence of the modern day café. Enjoy it if you can!